Beijing to distribute COVID-19 drug Paxlovid to community health centers to help key population amid approaching peak caseload
Published: Dec 26, 2022 10:37 PM
Pfizer's COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid. Photo: VCG

Pfizer's COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid. Photo: VCG

Beijing plans to distribute Pfizer's COVID-19 treatment drug Paxlovid to community health centers in a bid to help treatment of key populations as the city's peak caseload approaches, the Global Times learned from an online training session for doctors and nursing staff about how to direct patients to use the drug on Monday.

"In accordance with the unified deployment, the anti-viral drug Nematavir/Ritonavir tablets (Paxlovid) will be distributed to all community health centers, and community doctors will guide COVID-19 patients in their areas to take anti-viral treatment," reads a document from the Beijing Municipal Health Commission obtained by the Global Times on Monday.

"There's a lot of expectations, a lot of demand for the drug…Community health centers should strictly follow the usage of the drug, preventing any illegal usage and ensuring every one of the doses prescribed can be traced and followed up with a visit," Li Junnian, a deputy head of the grassroots health department affiliated with the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, said during a training session.

The Global Times reporter attended Monday's online training session and found the meeting gathered about 30,000 attendees, who are doctors and nursing staff of community health centers and family doctors in the capital.

The drug reserve will be allocated to community health centers based on the number of key populations. About 420,000 residents in Beijing are designated as key populations. They are people aged below 80 with unstable underlying diseases, including chronic kidney disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic lung disease and coronary heart disease and people those aged above 80 who have not completed vaccination. Other key populations also include dialysis treatment patients, tumor panchemotherapy patients, and disabled elderly people, according to Li.

The news was widely circulated on Monday and hailed by many as a beam of comfort, as the city is experiencing a peak caseload.

Staff from several community health centers reached by the Global Times on Monday said the drug has yet to be delivered. 

"The anti-viral drug has yet to arrive and we're not sure when the drug can be distributed," a worker at a community health service center in Dongcheng district told the Global Times. 

The deployment of the drug is a timely and necessary move as it has been approved in other countries, where it was found useful to reduce severe cases. Taking Paxlovid within five days of onset could avoid about 80 percent of hospitalizations and deaths, Jin Dongyan, a biomedical professor at the University of Hong Kong, told the Global Times.

During the training session, Li Xingwang, an infectious disease expert from Beijing Ditan Hospital, Capital Medical University, gave specific instructions about how to use the drug and how it works.

Ensuring that patients with risks will receive early anti-viral treatment can reduce the replication speed, numbers and lasting period of the virus and viral load. Preventing the virus' rapid increase is the key to reducing deaths, Li Xingwang said.

Amid a great upsurge in purchasing Paxlovid in the country, China Meheco Corp confirmed on Monday that the anti-viral drug cannot be bought online. 

"You have to go to a professional channel or a hospital to buy the medicine and you need a prescription to know if it is suitable," news website quoted a securities affairs representative of China Meheco Corp as saying. 

Pfizer's treatment received conditional approval from China's medical regulator in February 2022. The drug has been included in the coverage of the country's health insurance, reported.  

Media reports said that in the early months of this year, over 20,000 boxes of Paxlovid were imported and distributed to COVID-19 medical treatment frontlines of at least eight provinces and municipalities, such as Northeast China's Jilin Province and Shanghai. 

According to the training session, community health centers are also advised to use oxygen therapy scientifically and reasonably as an early intervention method for severe patients.

"Community health centers need to set up designated areas for oxygen therapy and provide residents in need with oxygen tank filling services to facilitate them to receive oxygen therapy at home," Li Junnian told the training session. Oxygen therapy is also covered by the health insurance.